Marmite Toast. No, really.

I’m perched on the sofa and Alex is cooking. He’s an ambitious cook, Alex; he will never whip up something quick and easy – if he wants to cook, then he will make the most complicated stew from scratch and spend hours pottering in the kitchen, the radio on, incredibly focused on endless tasks, piles of empty bowls and carrot peel.

As I write this, he feeds me thin slices of mature cheddar. The supermarket stuff, of the perfectly square sort that comes in a packet. He’s making a lentil pie and I hear the comforting sound of the gas hob, the quiet flame, the pots bubbling. The kitchen smells of soffritto, celery and bay leaves. The room is warm, filled with dense cooking vapour. Outside, it’s still winter – winter always seems to last forever.

When he leaves the room, I quietly go by the pan and steal a spoonful of lentils – even though they’re not quite cooked all the way through yet, still a little crunchy and floury, a good half hour away from becoming a silken mash. I always used to do this with my mum’s sauces, I would tear a piece of bread from a loaf and dunk it in the bubbly sauce, and then my mum would wonder why she had made so little. ‘The tomatoes must have been very watery, the sauce shrunk a lot’.

I bought some baguette from the Japanese bakery earlier. I went in for a couple of pretty, polished custard buns – their surface shiny, a faint eggy smell – but the lady begged me to take a baguette as well, someone had cancelled their order. It’s beautiful, a thick crust, a geometrical pattern on the back. I decide to make toast.

afterlight

There are a lot of things I used to despise as a kid and love now – anything in vinegar, anchovies, capers. But I was already in my twenties when I tried Marmite for the first time, and for years I would go on and on to anyone who would listen about how I thought Marmite was gross and inedible and I didn’t understand it.

Marmite is a strange, thick spread, dark as charcoal, with its aggressive smell and taste that divides couples and families and friends. Its unapologetic sincerity is even in the slogan: you may love it, you may gag (I’m paraphrasing).

And yet a few weeks ago, for some reason, I just felt compelled to try it again. And I loved it. I genuinely loved it. I suddenly understood it, I appreciated its saltiness, the yeast, the savouriness.

It was like when you a see a modern painting and it doesn’t speak to you and then someone explains the story, the painter’s intentions, their life,  their pain, and suddenly you see it all on the canvas, in the brushes and curves and splatters of colour – you just get it.

They say it’s an acquired taste. I like the notion of an acquired taste. I’m not sure it’s scientific but I do hope it’s true. I hope that when you try or read or see something a certain number of times, you can learn to appreciate it, to love it. Because if you can train yourself to love everything, then surely it will make life easier?

Alex is still in the middle of the action, I hear cutlery clanking and rattling. I cut a thick slice of baguette, toast it ever so slightly, the edges burning much faster than the soft centre. I smear an indecent amount of butter on it, so much that when it starts melting it treacles down the sides, and then a little marmite, dark and gloopy, salty and yeasty, like unfiltered beer, mixing with the milky sweetness of butter. I eat the toast still enveloped in the artificial warmth of the kitchen. The oven is now on.

Once you start liking Marmite, there’s no going back.

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Happiness – a short story

“I sit in the bathtub and try to relax. I  used to love baths, I loved slowly lowering myself in scorching hot water until it didn’t hurt anymore, my index finger drawing swirls in the cloudy water. I used to think it was relaxing.

So I sit and wait. I wait to feel relaxed. But the water is hot and it gets steamy and I can feel streams of sweat running down my cheeks and with them the expensive facemask I bought with money I don’t have.

I sit and wait and grow restless. I used to love baths so why isn’t this working, I wonder. It was meant to be good. Expectations do that to me; they make me feel unsettled. I rarely enjoy something others have deemed life-changing. I find the unexpected more comforting.

So I think about all the things in my life I hate but won’t change because it’s easier not to. And about my mum who says: you should write more. I know, I say, I used to write all the time.

I used to be sensitive and thinskinned and now I’m only the latter. I used to be passionate and feel everything so strongly and deeply and everything made me cry. I would daydream all the time and have lots of imaginary friends with complicated backstories and I used to spend every waking moment secretely pretending to be somewhere else.

I sit in the bathtub and wait and try really hard. I think about him and how I loved him and I liked pretending he loved me. He’d say you’re so pretty when you smile and I would blush because no one had ever said that before, because it isn’t true. I seldom smile and if I do my smiles are fake and they’re not even that convincing. Sometimes I’ll find myself in a situation where I’m supposed to smile – like, the old man who lives upstairs saying good morning or the shop assistant asking if I’m sure I don’t want a lotion for five pounds more, it’s on offer you see – and I just forget to curve my lips.

I loved him because he had the most perfect, joyful, child-like smile. I’ve always looked for what I don’t have.

I sit in the bathtub and wait and suddenly feel lonely and I think it’s because I have stopped. Immersed in hot water and silence I can’t rely on the distractions I surround myself with and suddenly I remember that everything I love will one day die.”

Decisions, a conversation

MAN: You look worried.
WOMAN: I am.
M: It’s just a decision. We have to make hundreds of decisions every day, nothing new.
W: What, like whether to have soup or pasta for dinner?
M: Just like that.
W: This is a bit different, though.
M: Is it?
W: It’s a life-changing decision.
M: Every decision is, potentially, life-changing. And every decision is potentially insignificant.
W: But this could make the difference between being happy or miserable.
M: Just like everything else. It’s just a decision. Oh, look. Primroses.
W: They’re gentians.
M: I like primroses.
W: I do, too, but those are gentians.
M: And daisies, down there. Or are those, I don’t know, daffodils?
W: No, those are daisies.
M: I like them. I like it here. I feel like I can think clearly.
W: That’s why I came, I suppose.
M: That’s why we came. Have you made your decision yet?
W: What if I end up regretting it? I’ve been talking to people…
M: Always a mistake.
W: … and I feel like I should be a grown up about it.
M: Another mistake.
W: I wish I knew what the right decision was.
M: But you see, is there really a right decision? Truth is, we feel like we’re in control, but we are not. We expect our legs to work when we get up, or the light to go on when we switch it on, but those are just assumptions. I can see it clearly.
W: What?
M: Our proportion. How small we are. How little control we have. How one day everything we expect may stop happening.
W: What does that have to do with anything?
M: You don’t control your future. Not really. Let’s assume that a right decision does exist. Let’s say decision A leads to outcome X, and decision B leads to outcome Y.
W: Too many letters.
M: And let’s say X is much much better than Y. Then decision A would have been the right one, right?
W: I suppose.
M: But we’ll never know the outcome of the decision we never made. We can make assumptions, again, but we’ll never know.
W: That’s terrifying.
M. I find it comforting.
W: They say the universe is beige.
M: Do they?
W: I read it somewhere. A bit disappointing, eh? Infinite beige.
M: Like your wardrobe.
W: (laughs) I like to think it’s black and blue and sparkly.
M: (Covering his eye with his hand) I do, too.